Local maple producers saw record highs

The Recorder, April 13, 2017, By Shelby Ashline.

The unusual temperatures this winter and spring turned out to benefit many of the local maple producers, who cited record high production.

For some producers, like Kleeberg’s Sugar House in Greenfield, the season lasted more than 10 weeks, as opposed to a more typical season of between six and eight weeks.

“I ended up about 20 percent over what I’ve been (producing) the last two years,” said Brian Kleeberg, owner and founder of Kleeberg’s Sugar House, who produced 550 gallons of syrup this season. “It was pretty good.”

The high level of production was something John Hannum, co-owner of J&J Maple in Whately, never expected at the start of the season.

“We were concerned we were just going to get a little bit, a partial season,” Hannum said, describing how the weather heated up so suddenly. “(But) I had a record year. I have never made this much maple syrup in my life. I ran out of containers more than once.”
Ideal weather for sap production, according to Kenneth “Chip” Williams IV of Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield, is cold nights in the 20s and warm days in the 40s. Low-pressure systems that produce snow and rain, he added, also lead the trees to produce more sap.

Warren Facey, who operates a sugarhouse at Bree-Z-Knoll Farm in Leyden, said he had no clue what to expect at the season’s start, but the weather turned out to favor the sugarers.

“The warm weather didn’t look good, but then it got cold and kept it going,” he said.

Overall, Winton Pitcoff, coordinator for the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, said the season saw above average production, with some sugarers having “close to a full crop by the end of February or March.”

“Taken altogether, there were a lot of really good runs and a lot of good syrup made,” Pitcoff said.

J&J Maple, for example, produced 700 gallons of maple syrup and sold an additional 20,000 gallons of sap to other producers, as compared to 600 gallons of syrup and between 5,000 and 6,000 gallons of sap last year, Hannum said.

“It (didn’t) stop running off the mountain,” Hannum said. “It just (kept) coming.”

Pitcoff said the United States Department of Agriculture will issue a survey to sugarhouses and release figures in the middle of June concerning the total amount of syrup produced in 2017.

A bumpy ride
On the other hand, the season wasn’t so lengthy for every sugarhouse. Facey, who has been sugaring for more than 40 years, got a late start to boiling, having been caught unprepared by unusually early warm weather, and boiled only from March 1 to April 9.

Pitcoff said the flow of sap started and stopped throughout the season, something Facey said led to sugaring being a more time-consuming business than usual.

“You just get started and then it’s over,” Facey said. “Then it starts again.”

Still, the bumpy ride ended with Facey producing 450 gallons of syrup, surpassing the average amount he used to see years ago of 400 gallons, and the 300 gallons that he’s been able to produce the past two or three years.

Though March used to be considered the primary month for maple production and was deemed Maple Month in Massachusetts this year, Pitcoff said it’s difficult to measure the length or production of a typical season in modern days, what with ever-changing weather and the production that results.

“There isn’t typical anymore,” he said. “There was typical 30 years ago or earlier.”

At J&J Maple, for example, Hannum said he stopped boiling in late March, though the goal was to “make it to Easter Sunday.”

A maple weekend flow
The late winter and early spring months, Pitcoff added, also supported business for sugarhouse restaurants. He noted that there were particularly fair-weathered weekends, when residents enjoyed getting out to their local restaurant for pancakes drenched in local syrup.

Plus, Maple Weekend on March 18 and 19 — when sugarhouses around the state were open for visitors to learn about the process and history of maple production as well as sample and purchase syrup — proved particularly successful, Pitcoff said.

“We had more sugarhouses participate than ever before,” he said.

You can reach Shelby Ashline at:

413-772-0261 ext. 257